Sabrina Pinckney is a big fan of the arts in schools.

She has firsthand knowledge of how it can change the life of a child. She watched how dance transformed her daughter from a shy girl at Rollings School of the Arts and Fort Dorchester High into a confident young woman who began believing in herself.

Megan Tyler Pinckney, a Charleston native, is an outgoing 21-year-old senior at the University of South Carolina and the reigning Miss South Carolina USA 2013.

'Karacter begins with K'

Megan will compete this summer in the Miss USA pageant, but win or lose, she has already made her family proud, Pinckney said.

Megan is a determined, smart, goal-oriented person who cares about others, Sabrina Pinckney said. And Mom knows.

Two years ago, Megan started a program for young children called “Karacter begins with K.” It instills leadership skills, self-discipline and self-esteem in kids, hence the “K.”

She now uses her title to travel around the state to schools and hospitals to empower youths.

Megan said children need to be taught to believe in themselves and have people to look up to. Role models don't have to be actors and athletes but real everyday people, such as teachers.

Megan is also a 2011 recipient of the Presidential Service award.

She said the pageant has given her a chance to travel and meet many people.

And despite some who may consider beauty pageants sexist, Megan said there is still value in them.

“It's what you make of the experience.”

She learned great communication skills and feels she would be comfortable on any job interview.

One of her favorite events was traveling with the Marines in Charleston last Christmas to hand out toys to disadvantaged children.

Watching the expressions on children's faces was priceless.So was the gratitude as parents watched their children who otherwise would not have had toys.

“I will never forget that — it is one of my favorites.” Even though it was at 6 a.m.

Arts in school

A fashion-merchandising student and a self-described “girly girl,” Megan wants to become a buyer for a high-end department store, own a boutique, or become editor of a magazine.

She is a legislative aide for state Rep. J. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, and has studied food and fashion in Italy; She loves Milan.

Megan's mother, a guidance counselor at Charleston Progressive Academy and Angel Oak Elementary, said she pushed and encouraged her daughter's education.

But she tells parents to enroll children in the arts.

“It does wonders for children and helps them with character and finding out who they are.”

Megan took classical ballet from the second through 10th grades and mixed dance — ballet, hip-hop, jazz — in 11th and 12th grades. She even made the dance team at USC.

Dancing taught her patience and helped her to focus.

When she was much younger, she would always want to get everything right the first time, Pinckney said.

“Dancing taught her to slow down and find the grace in what she was doing. That's when I saw the growth,” Pinckney said.

Megan's favorite role model? Well, you guessed it — her mom.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555.